Saturday, January 15, 2011
One Word At A Time
A huge shout out to say Thank You! To the Romance Magicians for having me here today. It’s a pleasure swing through and share my writing process (sounds so professional, doesn’t it?). Mary suggested I share how I “get the book done.” Well, it’s simple...
One word at a time.
Okay, maybe not that simple. But, getting the story down, word by sometimes painful word, is an absolute must. You can research and outline and write notes and character sketches. You can hammer out turning points, black moments and internal and external goals. All of those can help get the story done.
But you still have to write the story one word at a time.
Now, remembering that everyone’s process is different, here’s how I go about getting those words written:
1. Because I write romance, I start with a hero and heroine who have a solid reason not to trust each other. In Lying Eyes, Heroine is a jeweler whose missing father is accused of stealing gems. Hero is an undercover cop portraying a petty crook who thinks she might be helping her father. Both want to find the father, but they can’t trust each other with the whole truth about themselves.
2. I identify setting, key secondary characters (including villain), and any important plot elements. In Lying Eyes, I knew I needed the Father, the sisters, the villains, the Russians, the rabbit, and I needed something unique for my stolen gems.
3. At this point, I usually try to write a few opening scenes to get a feel for the characters. Generally, I have a vision of how the hero/heroine meet. But I can easily spend a month or more hammering out the first 30-50 pages of the story, getting the right tone, figuring out what to reveal and what to hold back.
Mind you, there’s no guarantee once I’ve written these 50 pages that I know *exactly* how the rest of the story will unfold. I’m not a true plotter. So, about this time, I mull the story around in my head.
4. During the mulling process, any scenes or snippets of dialogue that come to me, I write down. This is important to my process. I have a background in acting and stage management, so I tend to hear my characters’ dialogue as if I were listening to a scene being played out. I will sometimes draft entire scenes of just the dialogue, then go back afterward to add in thoughts and actions (and smooth out the formatting!). Soon, scenes start to fall into order.
5. Once I have a few scenes in mind, I sit down and draft them. Generally, but not always, in order. No matter how stinky, I force myself through that first draft. Sometimes I have to rearrange scenes. Or cut them. Or rewrite them from a different POV. Or change the setting. That’s not a time waste; that’s revision. Occasionally, I get a scene right the first time, and I celebrate.
6. Inevitably, a few times in the process, I’ll hit a wall. This isn’t writers
block. This is me, literally, not having a clue what happens next in the story. Like I said, I’m not a true plotter. I may see scenes later in the book, but I may not know how to get there. At this point, I lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling. Or I walk around my living room muttering to myself. The most productive thing, however, is when I go back and reread however much of the story I’ve written from the beginning. Without fail, every time I faltered then went back and reread, I found I’d planted something in the story that I could now use that made perfect sense. Never doubt your subconscious.
7. I repeat this process, writing 3-5 chapters at a time until the book is done. This is not to say that I don’t have printouts of online research or descriptions of my characters, or spreadsheets with the timeline. But all those notes served to get me back in the chair writing one word at a time on the story.
Once the book or a set of scenes is drafted, I send it to my critique partners. For Lying Eyes, I used three of them. Very different reading tastes: one logical, one romance-oriented, one family-oriented. They’d get me feedback and I tweaked those scenes while I also continued to write forward.
At the end of this process, I offered the finished book out to a dozen beta readers. These were writers I asked to simply read the book and give me their general impressions. Did they get lost anywhere? Did the characters make sense? Did the story drag in spots? If three or more readers pointed to the same thing, I took a serious look at it. One beta reader recommended I change how an important secret is revealed—it was a huge improvement!
Lying Eyes took me a little over five months to write. Mind you, I’d written the first 30 pages two years before but then put the story aside to work on other projects. The structure, the plot, the flow of scenes—none of that changed after the book was contracted, except that my editor asked me to add two scenes near the end.
Of course, the hardest part about the process, is that after the final stages of revisions and edits—when you can see the whole puzzle picture of your story laid out while you fit in the final pieces—you have to move on to another story. Then you start the process all over again from conceiving the idea to writing the whole story out one word at a time.
Amy Atwell worked in professional theater for 15 years before turning from the stage to the page to write fiction. She now gives her imagination free rein in both contemporary and historical stories that combine adventure and romance. Her debut romantic suspense, Lying Eyes, is now available from Carina Press, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. When not writing, Amy runs the WritingGIAM online community for goal-oriented writers. An Ohio native, Amy has lived all across the country and now resides on a barrier island in Florida with her husband and two Russian Blues. Visit her online at her http://www.amyatwell.com/blog, What’s The Story? and Magical Musings blogs, Facebook, Twitter and/or GoodReads.
I am a writer of Urban Fantasy and romance, with a love of strong coffee and cream for late night writing. I adore dark stories with anti-heros and determined heroines. I am represented by Victoria Lea from the Aponte Literary Agency.